Young adult brain and mental health: A scientific look at the mind-body connection

The brain is responsible for all aspects of social and emotional functioning. Brain health affects cognition, attention, memory, mood, motivation, concentration, emotion, impulse, and response to stress. The ability to reason and react sensibly depends on brain health, as well as the process of learning new information. Brain cells communicate by forming connections and establishing patterns. The brain wires itself based on daily exposures and environments.

Brain development & the transition to adulthood

It is common knowledge among medical and mental health providers that the brain continues to develop well into early adulthood. As people mature throughout their twenties, so do their brains.

As areas of the brain continue to grow, the new experiences of adulthood can strongly influence long-term brain health. During this critical phase of brain development, factors like alcohol abuse or drug dependency can alter the way the brain functions, eventually leading to a decline in social and emotional health. For example, researchers in Boston have identified brain abnormalities related to smoking marijuana. Their findings suggest that marijuana use can lead to a decline in brain functions which deal with emotion, motivation, and decision-making.

In addition to alcohol and drug use, risk factors that may affect brain development and mental health in early adulthood include exposure to physical or mental trauma, prevalence of an eating disorder, emotional neglect, or an untreated psychiatric illness. Programs, like the Center for Clinical Neuroscience at Yellowbrick, provide medical and mental health interventions when brain health has been compromised.

Boosting brain and mental health

While emerging into adulthood, people benefit from practices proven to boost brain and mental health.

Individual therapy: Young adults who receive individual therapy have a chance to strengthen their brain connections while unloading emotional concerns within a supportive setting. Scientists are still studying exactly how talk therapy promotes brain health, but in general, findings show that therapy improves brain functioning.

Exercise: Doctors at Harvard recommend adhering to a regular practice of exercise, including 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, to feel mentally sharp. Talk with your doctor to establish a healthy exercise plan. Find a recreational activity that you enjoy like Zumba, yoga, or strength training. Play tennis or basketball. Go for a daily walk.

Sensory experiences: Seeking new experiences, or trying something new, can help the brain form new connections, reports Science Daily. Young adults should explore an array of sensory experiences throughout their twenties. Check out local listings to try community classes like gardening or cooking. Learn how to play an instrument or explore a different neighborhood.

Mindfulness: Practicing meditation can greatly strengthen and restore brain health according to a study published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. Incorporate meditation into your daily schedule. Start with ten minutes of slow and concentrated deep breathing and gradually lengthen your meditation practice to boost your brain and mental health.

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